By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011; 8:28 PM
A day after the Maryland Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage, leaders of the House of Delegates signaled the chamber would move quickly on the legislation, probably putting it to a vote by the end of next week.
A lengthy House hearing on the bill Friday offered a preview of the upcoming debate, with advocates on both sides making impassioned pleas about whether the state should drop its requirement that marriage be between a man and a woman.
"This debate is not about abstractions," said Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), one of six openly gay House members to testify before the Judiciary Committee. "While it's love that makes a family, it's marriage that protects it."
Mizeur's wife, whom she married in California, sat behind her.
Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel) offered his testimony in the form of a prayer in which he urged his colleagues not "to redefine and destroy forever the God-ordained institution of marriage."
Same-sex marriage supporters acknowledged this week that they were still a couple of votes shy of a majority in the House. But on Friday, they said they had picked up momentum with the Senate's passage of the bill Thursday night on a 25-to-21 vote.
At a news conference before the hearing, Dwyer and other opponents acknowledged the bill might pass - and said they are already gearing up for a referendum on the issue.
The Maryland Constitution gives citizens the ability to petition just-passed laws to the ballot if they collect enough signatures. If that happened in this case, the same-sex marriage law would be put to a statewide vote in November 2012.
"It may pass the House, but we will not surrender," said Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. (D-Baltimore County), a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. "We will fight it every step of the way."
Dwyer said opponents were prepared to raise several million dollars from across the country to fend off a same-sex marriage law.
Equality Maryland, the state's leading gay rights group, has started plotting a referendum strategy as well.
Maryland would join five other states and the District in allowing marriage between same-sex couples. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Before Friday's hearing started, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's) announced that the panel, which he chairs, would vote early next week on the Senate's same-sex marriage bill.
A majority of the committee's members have pledged to support the legislation, which could appear on the House floor by midweek, House aides said.
Greg Quinlan, president of a national group called Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, was among those at Friday's hearing who asked lawmakers to slow down the process.
"I urge you to slow down. I urge you to stop," said Quinlan, who described himself as an "ex-gay."
The hearing also drew testimony from many of the advocates from both sides who appeared before a Senate committee this month.
The direct appeals to pass the bill from the openly gay House members were new. "Your bravery will be remembered and honored," Del. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore), one of the six who appeared, told her colleagues.